Hal McRae thought the 1976 batting title was stolen from him in a racist plot

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From the Department of I Had No Idea This Ever Happened comes the racial controversy over the 1976 A.L. batting title.  The part I knew about: the race came down to the last day between teammates George Brett and Hal McRae. In their last at bats, Brett hit an inside the park home run and McRae grounded out: title Brett.

The part I had no idea about: McRae believed there to be a racist conspiracy in play to throw the title to Brett:

After the game, McRae claimed that the Twins conspired to give Brett the title. Racism, McRae said, was the motivation . . . McRae’s claim centered on the argument that [Twins’ outfielder Steve] Brye was playing too deep
(at Mauch’s instruction) and that Brye likely hesitated on Brett’s
flyball, letting it fall . . . Brett also is quoted as saying, “I think maybe the Twins made me a
present of the batting championship, and if they did, I feel just as
bad about it as Hal does”.

All that came from a 1976 copy of the Sporting News unearthed by the Royals Review blog.  The kicker: it was just in some ordinary story on page 31, unaccompanied by any commentary or anything.  And nothing else ever really came of it.

Royals Review asks the question I had the moment I started reading it: can you imagine if that happened today.  The commentary explosion would definitely be something to behold. Most of it would probably be pretty predictable, of course.

I think it would be worth it alone just to see what the K.C. Star’s Jason Whitlock would do. I can’t decide if he would go with the conspiracy theory angle (his Jeff George articles are classics of the genre), the straight up racism story, or if he would go with what is perhaps his greatest strength and take the really, really contrary angle and, I dunno, accuse McRae of hatching his own conspiracy to create the batting title conspiracy and then use the rest of the column to slam ESPN and the nation’s culture.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.